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February 26, 2010

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Power line sends 66,000 volts through truck

Two construction firms have been criticised for failing to take steps to protect workers, following three separate incidents in which vehicles came into contact with overhead power lines.

Doncaster Magistrates’ Court heard that the incidents took place during the construction of a private road at First Point Business Park in Doncaster. Sheffield-based contractor JF Finnegan was the principal contractor at the site and had sub-contracted Saxby Surfacing Contractors Ltd to build the road.

On 5 December 2007, a tipper truck delivered stone to the site, which was used to form the surface of the road. The driver attached a road-surfacing machine to the back of the vehicle, and raised the truck’s flat bed so that the stone tipped into the machine. He then drove down the road and the surfacing machine began spreading the stones.

When the vehicle came to the end of the road, the driver disengaged the surfacing machine, and drove away while lowering the flat bed. As the vehicle moved forward, the flat bed touched an overhead power cable and received a 66,000 volt charge. The electrical shock destroyed the vehicle’s hydraulics, and jolted the flat bed down into its rest position. The driver received minor burns to his hands from the steering wheel.

The court heard that two similar incident had taken place at the site when a tipper truck and an excavator had struck the same power lines, though nobody was injured in either incident.

HSE inspectors found a lack of suitable signage, warning of overhead danger, or height-restricting posts, in operation. A Prohibition Notice was issued on the day of the incident to stop the movement of vehicles underneath the line.

HSE inspector Stephen Hargreaves said: “In this instance, had the driver of the tipper wagon left the vehicle when contact was made with the power line, it would almost certainly have proved fatal. Luckily, he remained in the vehicle and he escaped without injury.

“It wasn’t only the driver who had been put at risk — anyone else standing in close proximity could also have been killed, or seriously injured. Had there been appropriate signage in place, as well as height-restricting goal posts, this incident could easily have been avoided.”

JF Finnegan appeared in court on 19 February and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £17,500 and ordered to pay £2126 in costs. Saxby Surfacing Contractors appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 34(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to put safety measures in place to prevent access to electricity. It was fined £5000 and must pay £708 towards costs.

In mitigation, both firms said they had no previous convictions and had complied with the terms of the Prohibition Notice. Goal posts were installed on either side of the lines  to prevent vehicles being able to come into contact with the lines. Manned gates were also created at both ends of the road, so only authorised vehicles are allowed to access the area.

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